Hall lets old and new fans reconnect with history

BY Jeff Hammond • October 14, 2009

I am really excited that our sport finally has its own Hall of Fame. Now we can look forward to the future and who will be going inside those hallowed halls.

I think it's a pretty safe bet who will be three of the five people that make up the inaugural class this afternoon — NASCAR founder Bill France, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. What will be hard and gut-wrenching is who will be selected for those last two spots out of the remaining 22 nominees.

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Regardless, it's going to be exciting to watch when the announcement is made at 4 p.m. ET.

We in the sport have been looking for this to happen for a long time. This is something NASCAR has deserved and needed for quite a while. I am personally excited that we are finally going to shine the light, in a big way, on the pioneers of our sport.

I have said for years that we haven't done a good enough job honoring the guys and gals that got us to where we are today. Now we have a place where folks can capture and relive the past. I just think it is great for the sport. I have been in this sport for over 30 years. Being born and raised in Charlotte, I was lucky because I got to watch legends like Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson when they were in their prime. For a kid back then, going by the famous race shops in the area was the coolest thing in the world.

This is the sport that I grew up in and the sport that I love so much. Now finally, we will have our own Canton or our own Cooperstown. That's what we should be the proudest of. Now we can have a centralized place to honor the ones that are still with us and remember the ones who aren't.

Setting aside the obvious superstars in our sport, there are a few names I am really looking forward to see being highlighted. A guy like LeeRoy Yarbrough, for example, is somebody the new fans probably don't know about. He won NASCAR's version of the Triple Crown in 1969 — the Daytona 500, the World (now Coca-Cola) 600 and the Southern 500 (at Darlington Speedway) — and had a brilliant career until he suffered a tragic death. I have always felt he was underrated as a driver.

Yarbrough isn't the only one though. There's so many like him that just helped set the foundation of our sport both on and off the track. I also think about Buck and Buddy Baker. Man, you talk about a racing family. Buddy won some marquee races like Daytona and Charlotte. What about Tiny Lund? The Flocks? You have names like Cotton Owens, not only as a driver but also as an owner. Go down the list. There are some great names that deserve to be recognized and remembered.

Deck the hall

Hall of Fame

Who will make the cut for NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class? Meet the 25 finalists right here.

I watched a Showtime special the other day on the birth of the AFL. I had no idea how that whole thing played out. But that show allowed me to go back in time and relive their development and battles with the NFL. It was so intriguing. There's a similar story with NASCAR. There were a lot of small factions out there that wanted to have their own racing association. Big Bill France was able to rally the core group around him and NASCAR was born.

I know some folks have made the comment to me that only inducting five into the first class might seem a little small. I agree. Maybe next year they will induct some from Cup, some from the Nationwide Series and some from the Modified series. I just think we need to accelerate our learning and education curve for the fans who might be new to our sport. On the flip side of that, we also have a lot of fans who are older. They have been fans of the sport since it started. They deserve to see the Hall in all its grandeur too before it is too late for them.

All in all, I am glad it's happening and they can't open the doors to the new NASCAR Hall of Fame soon enough for me.

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